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SJYALit: Social Justice Reading in Schools, a guest post by Alex B.

sjyalitI have had many great experiences in graduate school for Library and Information science, but one of them has been the discussion on personality traits of people who work in libraries versus museums versus archives; coming from a background in education, I consider schools as well. Personality trait is maybe the wrong phrase, but I am talking about trends such as how outspoken on values and beliefs people are; in my 6th grade classroom, we watched Sara Bareilles’ music video for the song “Brave,” so that is one consideration, as are words like reticent, shy, political, or strong. Do you share your opinions with others? Do you have a disclaimer on them? Do you work to promote values and support the rights you believe in? I am still working on it, and considering qualifiers like when, how, how much, etc.

While watching the show When We Rise recently, I saw a portrayal of Tom Ammiano, one person I researched and mentioned in a past post (http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2017/01/sjyalit-how-does-real-life-and-research-fit-with-lgbt-young-adult-lit-a-guest-post-by-alex-b/). I also heard Harvey Milk’s catchphrase again, “come out.” Yet, I was not out as a middle school teacher. I was unsure how to respond to student questions and anxious about possible conflict, and my cooperating teacher during student teaching had told me (not knowing I was gay) that she would never recommend that LGBT people go into education and definitely not come out if so.

My experience in the 6th grade classroom

Despite the personal tension, however, I found myself excited by the curriculum and the work I could do to help students think critically about issues of social justice, build empathy for others, and practice being open-minded, creative, and kind. The books we read had diverse characters and touched on themes of classism, racism, xenophobia, and sexism, but not homophobia. How unique was this curriculum? How much different could  – and should – it look? My Curriculum and Instruction courses, as well as some of my Library and Information Science courses, have had “diverse” and “multicultural” in their titles and in their discussions and assignments. It seems as though many educators address issues of social justice through exploration of a text or prompt in conjunction with standards of reading and writing; books may be the easiest way to enhance student experience.

So, what did we read?

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) was newly released and gaining traction.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (Blue Sky, 1993) was thematic and engaging for most students.

The Other Half of my Heart by Sendee T. Frazier (Delacorte Press/Random House, 2010) was a popular choice.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011) was both thought-provoking and fun.

I would recommend these beyond a curriculum to be read with families and read by younger and older students (and adults!). I also loved to use children’s picture books in my lessons and there are many new possibilities for these and other books that include a social justice narrative; for issues that are so pressing, complex, and personal, it makes sense to branch out, be creative in use, and build a network across formats, grade levels, environments, or fields.

Students need these books and these experiences. It was both invigorating yet sometimes exhausting to be implementing these units with students, since the content was emotional and the landscape of addressing social justice in a curriculum and in schools was developing. We have the opportunity to give students tools for social change and social justice in young adult literature, in and out of schools, and educators and librarians (not to mention writers, publishers, students, and scholars) are working hard to do so. When I had or have questions or concerns, I go back to the enjoyment of the books, memories of my students’ positive exclamations and connections around them, and online resources like those provided below.


Alex B. is an aspiring librarian in a Master’s of Library and Information Science + K-12 program. She’s gay and has a goofy sense of humor. She can read, is testing her ability to write, and is so-so at talking. She does love to listen so you can connect with her via email (absjyalit at gmail.com) or comment here with your stories or thoughts!


American Association of School Librarians. (2017). Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/awards/social-justice

Brown, J. (2017). Equity & social justice in the library learning commons [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.open-shelf.ca/170201-equity-social-justice/

Hansen, J. (2014). Check it out: Want help boosting cultural responsiveness at your school? Ask your librarian! Teaching Tolerance 48, 20-22. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-48-fall-2014/check-it-out

Harmon, J. (2015). Social justice: A whole-school approach. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-justice-whole-school-approach-jeanine-harmon

Johnson, M. (2016). Do school librarians and educators have an obligation to address social change? [Blog post]. Knowledge Quest. Retrieved from http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/school-librarians-educators-obligation-address-social-change/

Kumasi, K. D. & Hughes-Hassell, S. (2017). Their eyes are watching us: serving racialized youth in an era of protest. Knowledge Quest, 45(3), 6-8. Retrieved from http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/KNOW_45_3_GuestEd_6-8_OPT.pdf

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2017). Teaching tolerance: a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/

Teaching for Change. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.teachingforchange.org/

Acosta, A. (July 13, 2016a). Third graders assess and improve diversity of classroom library. Teaching for Change. Retrieved from http://www.teachingforchange.org/elementary-diverse-library

Acosta, A. (July 13, 2016b). Virginia middle school students critique lack of                      diverse books. Teaching for Change. Retrieved from                                                            http://www.teachingforchange.org/ms-critique-books

Acosta, A. (July, 20, 2016). Developing critical literacy. Teaching for Change.                   Retrieved from http://www.teachingforchange.org/books/critical-literacy

We Need Diverse Books. (2017). WNDB. Retrieved from http://weneeddiversebooks.org/

Wetta, M. (2016). Libraries and social justice [Blog post]. The Hub: Your Connection to Teen Collections. YALSA. Retrieved from http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/12/02/libraries-social-justice/


  1. Wendy Boyce says

    I have really enjoyed these articles! I appreciate the personal background and experiences; they give me a better understanding of how students’ education can be enhanced. I also appreciate the examples and suggested books. Thanks, Alex B!

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